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Powering Tallahassee

First, note that I am a physicist at the Maglab and we are the biggest single customer of city power. We work closely with the city power staff and when one of the plants goes off line, I hear about it very quickly. Also, as a physicist I am comfortable with numbers and thus this missive is long winded and number heavy, but bear with me. It is a technical as well as social problem. I find that there are misstatements and carefully crafted statements by many on this problem that dodge the real issues.

There are many different means of obtaining adequate power. Each has its cost and drawbacks in terms of politics, physics, economics, health and environmental effects. Some imaginative suggestions I have heard violate the second law of thermodynamics! By nature I am a skeptic and don't believe anything (coal plants and wind power included) will be quite as good as the proponents think. What is critical is getting realistic numbers on all aspects.

Tallahassee is going to need more power, but fulfilling this need must include a wide range of options which means that comparisons must be presented in realistic and similar units and scales. I have a very hard time with most of the numbers presented to the public and also to the commission since they are often inconsistent in their basis and make useful comparisons difficult. It is impossible to make quantitative real comparisons without spending a lot of time adjusting the numbers. Many of the changes in conservation and efficiency are local "kilowatt" solutions for a household or business but when applied over the population that will/must use them, they can add up to megawatts of savings in consumption for the City. When looking at the problem one should compare similar problems and solutions not compare individuals to an aggregate.

Our power supplies must be diversified and part of that diversification must include conservation options. Conservation can, when spread out over the whole population, significantly reduce the power generation needs. I think that we must not discount conservation as a solution that though each measure is individually small, they are cumulative over the coming years. We also must not just assume that people will never change their habits - their electric bill is a powerful incentive to change their consumption habits and permanently lower their energy costs. The City has a substantial role to play in allowing conservation options to be realized. The City must be willing to invest in conservation options just as it is willing to invest in power plants. The city must have political will to do so, just as it recently did in mandating inclusionary housing in new development. In fact, better energy efficient homes are, by definition, more affordable and the folks who need such homes the most are those who also need affordable homes. Conservation efficiencies in building construction are important in the reduction of the actual cost to live in a home, not just to buy it.

I can readily think of 4 steps that can be taken immediately. The first 2, are changes in building codes and energy efficiency subsidies. The others are local generation and restructuring our consumption. I am sure a more comprehensive review than my personal work in this email could lead to other equally important steps.

Electricity for Hot Water (HW)

Typical hot water use (family of 4, average size home) is approximately 0.5 kW. For each of the new 3000 homes/yr built in the city that is an extra 1.500 MW of consumption. This new demand could be reduced by 1/2 of that every year by requiring all new homes to have solar HW. By the time the plant was built in 2012 that would save 6*0.75 MW= 4 MW. By the time the plant is decommissioned 30 yrs later. That is a savings of 36*.75 MW = 24 MW.

Retrofitting existing homes is not technically difficult but costs more than new construction, like most retrofitting. To get folks to do this, the City must create financial incentives such as pay the cost difference between retro-fit and new construction. Since the City purse is limited, incentive programs would have to be limited also, perhaps to double the number of new construction units each year.

Now we are talking about MW and not kW from simple energy efficient building codes.

Electricity for Heating and Cooling (HVAC)

HVAC is the primary use of electrical power in the city. New building codes should be adopted that require all new construction to be insulated to a higher R value. As a very rough estimate would result in savings of about the magnitude of solar hot water. Again an extra 0.25 kw of average consumption for each home. This is about a 10% reduction in total energy consumption from the average new home. But for older homes, retro-fitting could produce substantially higher savings since older homes usually have poorer insulation and higher air infiltration.

Time of Use Billing

Time of use billing will affect the value of peak usage. The need for more production capacity is strongly determined by needing to that mid afternoon high (when we get shut off at the magnet lab). Time of use billing changes peoples consumptions habits, at home and work. A shift of 5% of the peak load is not much but probably achievable. People will need help to recognize how much energy and when they use it in order to change their habits. This will cost some in new time-of use metering BUT there is savings since newer meters can lower the cost of personnel to read them by using radio activated readout. No need to enter the yard to read the meter. There is an interesting results from Quebec where putting the meters readily accessible to the homeowners with an easy readout of current power consumption lead to people noting what uses causes what power consumption. A feedback mechanism is what will help people optimize their use of power.

Electricity from Photo-Voltaics

The change to a time-of-use billing helps makes photo-voltaics a realistic component of diversified energy sources. If the city is buying power at the residential rate from the citizen during the peak usage mid-afternoon when there is peak photo-voltaic production then the citizen can purchase power back from the city when there is excess production capacity in the evenings and nights. This changes the payback period for photo-volatics and would greatly increase their adoption. This helps to lower the need for power plant capacity during peak afternoon hours as the City can buy it back from its citizens exactly when they are producing the most. I have seen this work in the San Jose area.

Adding 2500 homes a year with a 2 kW system (about 2 square meters) would generate an average power of 2.25 MW. Many communities subsidize the installation of photo-voltaics (San Jose, Massachusetts, and even Jacksonville I believe). Again as this goes in place the effects are cumulative. The cost to the city might be 1/3 of the system cost (usual subsidy in MA and CA), that would be $2.75/watt or $20 million/year. It is not chump change, but it is investment in a power source, just like investing in a power plant. The city's investment is about equal to the $2/watt for the NFPP (coal plant construction cost), but there is no loss for transmission lines, fuel costs or ongoing environmental hazards.

This size system might cost $12,000 total with the the home owner spending $8,000 and the city $4,000. But this would generate about 5200 kWh each year saving the homeowner about $600. (2 kW * 30% (actual-sun-is-shining time) * 8760 hrs/year = 5200 kWh/year * $0.12/kWh = $630) This results in about a 12 year payback to the homeowner. Thus 1600 houses with this system will save the City from building 1MW of generation capacity and this accumulates over the years. The payback period will be even less and it will be more attractive to the homeowner with the time of use billing system suggested above.

I know that many folks keep saying "Ya can't power the maglab with solar cells on the roof". But that is not exactly true. The magnet lab should be part of the solution not driving the problem. There are technical reasons why we can't use photo-voltaics for the magnet power systems, but some of the normal power consumption for pumps, chillers, heating and air conditioning could be absorbed by a PV system. There is 10,000 square meters of roof space. This could generate a MW of power all by itself at a single facility. There are also many other large empty roofs in town that could come "on-line" over time.

Lifeline Electric Billing

Power costs will go up. This will be independent of any choice of power generation. Changing power consumption patterns is most easily done thru market forces. Higher efficiency vehicles rapidly appeared after the gas crisis of '72. However, market forces can be very cruel to low income folks. But cutting costs for everyone is not the solution and all of the costs of generating electric power should be passed on to the consumer or else necessary changes in our economy will never take place. Thus an establishment of a "lifeline" rate that is low for those with verified need will help those who need it while not distorting the market by keeping the cost of power artificially low. This has been done in many communities for various public utilities such as phone, power, water etc. I know that Los Angeles had such a program, Boston has programs for subsidizing heating oil costs for low income folks. We should be able to implement one as well.

Environmental and Health Costs

True costs, include health costs, environmental cleanup costs, atmospheric effects, and possible legal risks from ignoring these well known hazards etc. Some of these health effects are known problems and there is no acceptable lower limit for mercury exposure. Our quality of life is the main attraction to bringing business and economic growth here. We are on the edge of the areas of heavy power plant particulate generation (see map) and we should not make it worse.

Comparison of NFPP and Alternative Power Generation and Conservation

If comparisons are made at the projected start date of operations (2012) then the results are biased in favor of the coal plant since the cumulative effects of conservation solutions have not had time to occur. If the comparisons are made at the end of plant life time (2042) then the results are biased in favor of the conservation solutions. However, conservation must start immediately. Therefore, I have chosen the midpoint - the midpoint of the plant lifetime and the cumulative conservation solutions staring next year. The numbers are real 24 hour/day average 365 days/year day and night, realistic expected power generation and savings.

Projected savings at peak mid-day use in the year 2027 (half the NFPP lifetime)

Solar Hot water-new construction 15.25 MW
Solar Hot water-retrofit 15.25 MW
Higher Insulation-new construction 15.25 MW
Shift of use to off peak times 25.00 MW
Photo-voltaic systems 31.50 MW
Total 102.25 MW
The NFPP is 160 MW *peak* power. If we adjust this peak output to its average output to compare fairly with the numbers above we have to consider the following.

First of all, it will not be operating at full capacity 24 hours/day since there is not a market for it.

Second the plant itself will be down for maintenance and failures some of the time as well. I get a phone call every time the new Purdom 8 plant goes off line, so I know the problems. If that plant generates 75% of its maximum capacity as an average over the years it will probably be doing well.

Third the US average utilities loss in transmission of power is 7%.

It would seem that Tallahassee will only get about 70% of the rated peak power of 160 MW which would be 112 MW delivered to the consumer. This isn't a lot different from the realistic consumption savings and local generation capacity at the middle of the plant's lifetime. I'm quite surprised by this too! But these values are computed from current use and existing programs in other communities where available. Cumulative effects of reasonable annual efforts are obviously substantial.

How To Truly Diversify Our Electric Generation

What does it take to make much of this happen? A true commitment to looking at the future needs and options while thinking outside the box and not being captive to the Jacksonville Electric Authority. If you go to a traditional power plant manager or engineer and ask how to get more power, you will get the answer to build more of the same. It is what they know best, they can make their own best estimates, but there is other expertise to tap. What is needed is a new position reporting directly to the city manager to look at enacting alternative energy sources and conservation, not just "promoting" them. This should not be one low level person in the electric power plant chain of command. Also needed is a budget for exploiting these resources on a basis of most cost effective proposals first. A lot of alternative energy sources are heavy in the up front capital costs but pay back over time, much like power plant and transmission line construction.

External Costs of Coal are Real

Coal is cheap because it is remains dirty. The health and environmental cost of mining and burning are passed on to the public outside of the traditional electric bill. And what does mercury do to the environment? Mercury does not break down. When transformed into methyl mercury, it becomes one of the most toxic, long-lasting pollutants in the world. People living in areas around coal-fired power plants have a higher risk of various forms of brain, lung, and heart problems due to increased exposure to mercury. Newborn babies and children are particularly at risk of chronic mental and learning problems due to increased mercury burdens in such areas. A National Academy of Science study estimated that 60,000 newborns each year might suffer developmental damage due to fetal mercury exposure. The EPA has issued fish consumption advisories in 44 states. Plants have been incorporated with fish oil genes to improve public health, since eating more fish is less and less of a healthy option due to mercury poisoning.

There is also substantial air pollution created, even with the installation of the latest scrubber technology. I heartily recommend that you look at the map showing deaths from particulates. This pulverized coal plant is supposed to be cleaner than usual, but any additional pollution is really a hazard.

And then there is global warming. Using less carbon based fuels is essential and we as a community to participate in the solution to the best of our capacity - and that is substantial but still untapped.

Tallahassee's Need for Stable and Adequate Electric Power is Real

I am not saying that we do not need new power sources. BUT we are not in such a jam that we have to jump at the NFPP as the only option. Going for 100 year old technology where 30% of the cost is a bandaid to make it marginally safe is obviously a bad technological solution. There are other solutions, and if I could put some pretty pictures on the cover of this email I could charge thousands as consulting fees! :-)

Please take a look at the references on on the CURG web site under the "Tallahassee Energy Policy" heading. The report on Powering The South is particularly good.

I think that an honest comparison of numbers will show that there are viable alternatives that could be put in place immediately and have huge cumulative effects. Lets keep slogans and aphorisms out of it and stick to real possibilities.

Dr. Scott Hannahs
Chair, Citizens United for Responsible Growth
Ph: 668-0118(H), 644-0216(W) FAX: 644-0534